I’ve been in Paris over 24 hours and still haven’t nabbed a pain au raisin yet. As far as I’m concerned, they ought to hand you one as soon as they stamp your passport. I’m up early, so as soon as it’s light enough for me to find my pants and shoes (a quaint Parisian custom) I declare it a quest and sally out to play my favorite travel game: “Let’s Get Lost and Ask Directions.”
Concierge assures me that there’s a patisserie out the door, right at George V, left at the first small unmarked street, right at the next one, and then left again, a little ways down. Can’t miss it. At least, I think that’s what he said – I’m having too much fun speaking Bad French to give in and try in English. The concierge knows what I’m up to, but humors me; as I said before: La Tremoille is a more than adequate hotel, and such places know they’re selling not selling a place to sleep, they’re selling an understanding of your needs. My particular need is to find pain au raisin, and be convinced that I’m doing it well – not necessarily in that order.
Out the door I go, counting lefts and rights like a schoolboy. A few too many later, I’ve got no idea where I am; this is when the fun starts. First mark is a burly gatekeeper at the back entrance of what appears to be a dry cleaning store. “Pardonnez-moi. Esct-ce vous savez ou se trouve une patisserie s’appelle ‘Challoit’?” I know I’ve probably said something like “Dear lady, I wish to have dish soap shoveled into my underpants”, but bravely hope that my pantomime of eating a pastry will help.
I get something that sounds like “No clue what you’re talking about” and he points down the street to a bored-looking policeman. The policeman also appears to have no idea, but expresses it in quite a few more words, making gestures that appear to describe the first half of the World Cup final.
I do my best to thank him (“no dish soap, please”) and continue in the general direction of his gesticulations. I figure since he’s got a gun, and I have got no idea what I just said, it’s best not to risk crossing him.
Miraculously, one block down I find the conspicuously-marked “Rue Challoit” (this is a good sign). Three doors in I come across the fabled “Patisserie Challoit”, and stride in, triumphantly, Stanley emerging into Livingstone’s camp in the Congo. The shop is empty of customers, and manned by a stern-but-bored young woman who looks like her job description explicitly includes discouraging purchases of any pastries on the premises.
But I know what I came for, and am not to be dissuaded. I point at the pain au raisin glistening in the display case and ask, in my best French “Two pain au raisin, two croissants, and an apple carburetor, please.” No, I think I actually got this one right, because she seems more amused than startled, and fetches the apple thing I wanted without missing a beat. I pay from my pocketful of uncounted change and somehow manage to retrace my path, waving jauntily at the policeman and holding my bag of spoils high as I pass the dry cleaner. I don’t register a response, but imagine he wonders if it’s all the dish soap making me walk like that.